Sports Person of the Week
Burke Manages to Help the T-Birds Succeed
After being forced to stop playing field hockey, Saoirse Burke became a hands-on manager who helped lead the North Branford field hockey team to the Class S state championship. (Photo courtesy of Saoirse Burke)
Saoirse Burke’s back injury might have taken her off the playing field. However, as a manager for the North Branford field hockey team, she helped lead the Thunderbirds to the Class S title as a senior.
Saoirse was introduced to the sport of field hockey in the 7th grade at North Branford Intermediate School. She says many of her friends were playing and she wanted to join them. After playing at NBIS for two years, she joined the Thunderbirds as a freshman.
Once she reached the high school level, Saoirse says that just like intermediate school, she was welcomed with open arms.
“It was really amazing. My freshman year everyone was so sweet and welcoming,” Saoirse says. “Even in 7th grade, it was an easy sport for me to pick up. It made it so much fun to already know everyone and to make so many new friends. I really loved it.”
However, while she joined the Thunderbirds, she was forced to miss her entire freshman season with a broken finger. She returned as a sophomore, but broke her back halfway through the season and was forced to miss the rest of the year. That injury would ultimately end her field hockey career.
But Saoirse had been playing with the same girls since 7th grade. She says she had grown so much with those teammates and made new friends along the way. Saoirse didn’t want to just leave them, so she became the manager for the North Branford field hockey team at the beginning of her junior year.
“I had already spent two years on the high school team. I had created a family bond with everyone. I just didn’t want to throw that away and play a different sport or just take a season off,” Saoirse says. “I had fostered so many relationships with so many people on that team, including all the coaches, all the new players and all the past players. It didn’t make sense for me personally to throw all that out and just leave.”
As a manager, Saoirse went to every game and every practice she could. She helped run drills, did the stat book, helped with fundraisers and did everything she could to help the team on and off the field. She says that while she was sidelined for most of her freshman and sophomore seasons, she picked up the skills she would need for when she became manager.
“When I was injured, I still went to every practice,” Saoirse says. “What I do as a manager now, that’s what I did when I was on the team as a player. That’s kind of all I knew. I just took that and still do it. It gave me something to do and kept me close with the girls.”
North Branford head coach Babby Nuhn recognized how much Saoirse was putting into the program, despite not being able to play. She said that Saoirse went above and beyond what most managers do and that she always did everything she can to help the Thunderbirds.
“Most managers go to a game 30 minutes before it starts, writes in names, subs, time of goal, and that’s it. All done in a maximum 20 days all season. Not Burkie,” Nuhn said. “She attended every single practice, helped out as a coach, did timing drills, knew our strengths and weaknesses, addressed the team at halftime, and worked with her teammates on a peer level. She helped them to see where they needed to improve.
During Saoirse’s senior season, North Branford field hockey had one of its most successful seasons in recent memory. The team won its sixth straight Shoreline Conference Championship and won the Class S State Championship for the first time since 2017.
After growing up with her teammates and watching them succeed, Saoirse says the T-Birds’ success was rewarding and emotional.
“It was so rewarding for me. Going into the beginning of the season, I wasn’t really sure where we were as a team,” Saoirse says. “Every day I got to see each and every girl improve. Everyone contributed to our success. It was so rewarding to see us win. It made me so emotional, I think I cried when we won both of them.”
While she was forced to stop playing field hockey, Saoirse is still an active athlete with North Branford’s girls’ lacrosse team. She has been on the team since her freshman year but has mainly played JV. She will be making the jump to varsity as a senior. She’ll also be doing so as a captain, next to Olivia Toto, Braeden LeBeau, and Marissa Raffone.
“It is so exciting. I’m so ready for it. I love all the girls on the lacrosse team,” Saoirse says. “I think playing JV last year gave me some headway by playing with the younger girls. It gave me a chance to connect better with them. I was able to help them and bring them up with me. I took them under my wing in a way.”
As she battled through her injuries, Saoirse says she always came back because she loves field hockey and lacrosse and always wanted to help her teammates succeed. She added that she was proud that the teammates she always came back to were with North Branford.
“Our sports at the high school do great things. It’s incredible to say that I am part of these teams that have done so many great things, have won so many awards and have won so many titles,” Saoirse says. “It’s really empowering for me. I like to tell people, ‘My team has won States, my team has won Shorelines this many years.’ It’s a really incredible, empowering thing for me.”